As the service industry suffers, Ben’s Friends offers sobriety support to workers

VIRTUAL SUPPORT: Asheville Ben's Friends chapter, which offers group support to hospitality industry workers struggling with substance abuse and addiction, has moved its services online in response to the current COVID-19 health crisis. "There is always someone to talk to," says member Paul Cressend, Jr. "Right now more than ever some people really need that." Photo by Thomas Calder

Chef Paul Cressend, Jr. admits that receiving an email on March 17 notifying him he was terminated from his job was traumatic. But he wasn’t alone.

His co-workers at Isa’s French Bistro in the Haywood Park Hotel received the same email, and thousands of others in Asheville’s hospitality industry were simultaneously hearing similar bad news on the heels of state mandated dining room shutdowns in response to COVID-19. Being fired, it was explained, was the legal first step to immediately filing for unemployment.

Thanks to Ben’s Friends, the program founded in 2016 by Charleston, S.C., restaurateurs Mickey Bakst and Steve Palmer that offers group support to hospitality industry workers struggling with substance abuse and addiction, he was also not alone when it came to maintaining his two-plus years of sobriety in the face of such a blow.

In fact, as one of the leaders of the Asheville Ben’s Friends chapter that launched last summer, Cressend wants everyone to know that while the organization has asked chapters not to gather in person, the weekly meetings will still take place Tuesdays at 11 a.m., but are moving online to Zoom. (For more on the chapter’s formation, see “Ben’s Friends Asheville supports restaurant workers coping with substance abuse,” Aug. 1, 2019, Xpress.)

It’s not necessary to be a member of Ben’s Friends to attend the virtual meetings. Information on how to access them can be found via the Asheville F&B Tribe page on Facebook at For more details about Ben’s Friends, visit

“Losing a job disconnects you from your people,” says Cressend. “Maintaining connections is key to being healthy.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Kay West
Kay West began her writing career in NYC, then was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, including contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. In 2019 she moved to Asheville and continued writing (minus Red Carpet coverage) with a focus on food, farming and hospitality. She is a die-hard NY Yankees fan.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.